South Charlotte

Comeback win kept Hawks' title streak alive

Over the past four seasons, the Hawks have won 71 of the 78 games they have played, with only six losses and two ties.

Going into the 2011 season, Latin had not lost in 54 games, dating to a March 10, 2008, defeat to Weddington.

But this year, the three-time defending state champion Hawks (before 2011) faced adversity after losing seven starters to graduation and having starters Mia Kane, Mary Lewis and Sarah Shea go down with season-ending injuries.

Then Latin suffered through an atypical three-loss regular season, including two losses to conference rival Charlotte Country Day, which won the CISAA title.

Once the playoffs started, Latin still felt like the team to beat.

"I told the girls that until somebody beats us in the playoffs, that we are still the defending state champions," said Latin soccer coach Lee Horton, who has won 14 state titles (seven girls and seven boys) with the Hawks. "Everybody knew we would still be the team they had to beat to win it."

After a 3-0 win against Forsyth Country Day in the state quarterfinal, Latin had to face Charlotte Country Day in the semifinals. The Hawks had beaten the Bucs for the state title in 2010, something that would not be forgotten by either side.

All-state sophomore forward Ashley Finke scored twice to give the Hawks a 2-0 advantage. Latin held off a furious Country Day rally to win 2-1 and advance to its fifth straight state final.

"The win over Country Day this year was more rewarding in terms of a sense of accomplishment than when we beat them in the state championship last year," Finke said.

The next day the Hawks played Raleigh Ravenscroft in Greensboro, attempting to win their fourth straight state championship, this time as the underdog. Latin got more bad news, however, when senior all-state defender Katherine Peters got the flu the night before the title game and could not play against Ravenscroft.

But as they had done all year, the Hawks rallied around each other, no matter who was on the field.

Ravenscroft struck first at five minutes in, when U18 women's national team player Caroline Lindquist scored on a breakaway to give her team a 1-0 lead.

"We were starting to get nervous on the sideline, thinking about changing our tactics and style of play for the last 10 minutes," said Horton, with his team still down 1-0 with 12 minutes left. "Then, right when we were about to switch, we scored."

Finke scored her third goal in two games on a header from a cross by freshman midfielder Cannon Clough, changing the tone of the game.

"I told the girls at halftime that once we tied the game - and we were going to tie it - that we would have all the momentum," said Horton.

Latin pressured the Ravens' defense for the next eight minutes until junior midfielder Callie Kennedy, playing forward for the first time all season, broke free.

Kennedy then found sophomore forward Amma Okwara wide open for what would be the game-winning goal and Latin's fourth state title in as many years.

"We won because we always play together as a team," said Finke. "We had people in different positions and it didn't matter. We never stopped believing in ourselves and we played that way every minute of the season."

Horton agreed that the comeback win made the title great.

"To come back to win the state championship in the last 12 minutes shows how much heart this team has," Horton said. "Winning state championships never gets old. Every time you win it, it is great. But the way we had to do it makes it even more special."